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Oral Drug Testing

DOT sanctions oral fluid testing as a drug-screening method

March 1, 2022
New rulemaking also tightens some rules for the most prevalent kind of drug testing—urinalysis—which still is the only accepted method for the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Feb. 28 added the testing of oral fluid as a method of drug screening for DOT-regulated workplaces—including trucking—in a proposed rulemaking. The new regulations would permit carriers to test truck drivers using samples of fluid from their mouths.

The agency published the proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register—and this move adds the possibility of a third government-approved method for screening for illicit substances by government employees and regulated industries to go along with urinalysis, which is used in tests submitted to the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

See also: Study renews debate over trucker drug-testing methods

The other proposed testing method, on hair follicles, was the subject of a mandate by Congress via the FAST Act of 2015 and a rulemaking in 2020 that has not been finalized but still is used by carriers for pre-employment screenings if their states allow it. The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hasn’t satisfied Congress’ demand, however, and has not yet released a final rulemaking for hair testing as a testing method that would be federally sanctioned.

Oral fluid testing “will give employers a choice that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a more economical, less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program,” according to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM. Urinalysis also is inexpensive while hair screening is more expensive but generally regarded as even more accurate.

Meanwhile, the Feb. 28 proposed rulemaking also contains stricter guidance on the testing of employees’ urine—requiring the sample be taken by direct observation by a medical professional, or a medical review officer (MRO) who supervises and reviews results from a carrier’s drug-testing program. Under the old urine-testing guidelines, the sample could be taken at an employee’s convenience or even be supervised by a carrier’s safety and compliance officer or human resources department.

The new NPRM also is meant to jibe with oral fluid testing guidelines established two years ago by HHS, according to the Feb. 28 USDOT release. Comments to the proposed rulemaking should be submitted by March 30.

Urinalysis remains the lone testing method for results submitted to the federal clearinghouse. Add oral fluid testing as a future means of testing for transportation-related employers. Some carriers, such as those affiliated with the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, known as the Trucking Alliance, use a testing method they have favored for years—hair testing—if their states permit.

The Trucking Alliance recently stirred controversy with the Jan. 12 release of a study that claimed to show driver use of cocaine was seriously underreported by the clearinghouse and that truckers use cocaine more than they do marijuana. The study took aim at urinalysis and bolstered the accuracy and reliability of hair testing. Another stakeholder in the industry, the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), about a week later came out with a white paper to counter the Trucking Alliance study and criticize the alliance.

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl | Managing Editor

I'm back to the trucking and transportation track of my career after some time away freelancing and working to cover the branches of the U.S. military, specifically the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism there with several years of experience inside and outside business-to-business journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit FleetOwner magazine and our website as well as report and write all kinds of news that affects trucking and transportation.

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